Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President Prior to a Roundtable Discussion on Voting Rights and Protections With Advocates and Leaders in Atlanta, Georgia

January 09, 2024

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay, thank you. Well, good afternoon, everyone. It is good to be back in Atlanta and here at the Gathering Spot, where I have spent some time over the years, but, in particular, to be with the leaders who are in this room to have a continuing conversation -- a conversation that many of us have been having for years -- around the significance of fighting for basic and fundamental freedoms, the promise of our country, and in particular the right to vote and having access to the ballot and ensuring that access in times where there are, I believe, intentional, full-on attempts to make it more difficult for people to vote so that they will not vote.

When we look at the state of Georgia, in many ways, it is ground zero on this issue, both in terms of Georgia's history of fighting for the right of people to express their dreams and goals for their country through the exercise of their right to vote. Georgia, of course, the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the home of John Lewis, of Andy Young, and, of course, many of the leaders who are at this table.

Yet we have seen in the state of Georgia, by example of what is happening in the country, anti-voter laws -- laws that have limited drop boxes, have made it illegal to even provide food and water to people standing in line often for hours.

You know, I say the hypocrisy of abounds when one considers what happened to "love thy neighbor" and the concept of just expressing that kind of kindness for people who are standing and sacrificing their time away from other obligations to exercise their civic duty.

We have seen attacks on election workers. I just, before coming into this room, spent some time with election workers who have been working here in Georgia. And the stories that I've heard here and in other parts of our country are so troubling.

These are folks who, again, feel a sense of duty to their community, love our country, and volunteer their time, in most cases, to serve, to do the outreach with their neighbors, to -- to let everyone know that we're all in this together. And yet, we have seen, through efforts that are about harassment and intimidation, in many attempts, a plan to deter people from even doing that work of volunteering to serve at the polls.

Many of us have been voting for as long as we were legally able, and, I can tell you, poll workers and the election workers are some of the nicest people you've ever met. (Laughter.)

They're paying attention to what's happening in the community. They care about the community. Yet, these very people with that character and nature are being intimidated and harassed.

So, we're here to have a conversation about all of this -- about how we've seen politicians intentionally draw unfair maps. And I think we all agree voters should be picking their politicians; their politicians shouldn't be picking the voters.

And -- and then, of course, what we've seen in terms of mass challenges, where extremist groups are challenging the eligibility of hundreds of voters, and, again, what that is intended to do to bog up the system in a way that creates deterrence, slows down the process that we should all want and require, which is free and fair elections. And, of course, again, the voter intimidation.

And of -- this is not only in -- in Georgia. We have seen this assault nationally. Over 300 anti-voter bills were introduced last year. And then, of course, just three days ago, we commemorated January 6th.

The President gave an extraordinary speech that outlined what this means to our democracy, to fundamental freedoms, and what we have seen in terms of the -- the images that were about a brutal attack on the United States Capitol to undo the will of the voters and the American people in a free and fair election.

So, this is a big issue. And the President and I have been doing our work as an administration, for example, before when -- before we got in office, Vote.gov -- which many of you have been reminding folks exists and is there to help them -- there were only two languages available: English and Spanish. We have now extended that to 17 languages, which includes Chinese, Korean, Arabic, and Navajo. (Applause.) Yes.

Before we came into office, federal workers were guaranteed paid time off only to vote. Since we came in office, paid time off to vote is still in place and paid time off to serve as a poll worker. And the federal government, of course, is the largest employer in the country in terms of public employer. And so, this is a big matter in terms of allowing people to, again, exercise their civic duty and their sense of duty without having to sacrifice their -- their ability to put food on the table to do it.

And all of that to say the President I will continue to fight on these issues, including to urge and to compel, as best as we can, Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

And in particular, I want to thank Representative Lucy McBath, who is here -- there -- (laughter) -- here, right there; we were together earlier -- and Representative Nikea -- Nikema Williams for the work that you are each doing in the United States Congress to fight for all of these rights.

And I have seen you all when the cameras are on and when the cameras are off in the halls of the United States Congress fighting every day on behalf of the people of Georgia and the people in our country.

So, all of that to say that we have a lot of work yet to do. And the attacks are clear. The -- there is, I believe, a full-on intent to attack fundamental freedoms and rights in our country -- not only the freedom to have access to the ballot, the freedom for -- for people to make decisions about their own body, for women to make decisions about their own body, the freedom of people to love who they love openly and with pride, the freedom of people to -- to be safe from gun violence.

There is so much right now that is challenging us as a country. But when I look at the leaders at this table, I know that we are prepared to meet these challenges and to do so in a way that we will work together -- continue to work together to build coalitions and to remind people of what is at stake and, most of all, to remind them that on the issue of voting, their vote does matter. It is an expression of their voice. And these are the voices that lead to good outcomes when they have the ability to have access to the ballot.

And so, with that, I want to thank everyone here. And -- and I also want to thank you because in the midst of, in Georgia, the challenges that have taken place, you sent the first Black man to the United States Senate from the state of Georgia and -- and elected the first Jewish man to the United States Senate from the state of Georgia. (Applause.)

And so, we are inspired by what you've been doing here on the ground, because we know in spite of the obstacles, the people have expressed their desire and will to participate in the future of their country and their government.

And so, with that, I thank you all for being here. I look forward to our conversation. And I thank the press. Thank you.

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President Prior to a Roundtable Discussion on Voting Rights and Protections With Advocates and Leaders in Atlanta, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/369101

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